Things You Can Do Now to Cut Heating Costs - TheStreet

Things You Can Do Now to Cut Heating Costs

Eileen Gunn suggests beginning to think of ways to save a few pennies this winter
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It's August, and everyone is still deep in summertime mode. The biggest seasonal concern remains slathering on enough SPF 30 to fend off nasty sunburn. But the cold weather will be here before you know it, and when it is, you'll want to fend off the high heating oil prices that could burn a hole in your pocket.

The Energy Information Administration predicts that

residential heating oil prices

this winter will average $4.34 a gallon, up 31% from last winter's average of $3.31.

Residential natural gas prices, which often track oil prices, also are expected to rise about 22% to an average $15.58 per Mcf, from $12.72 a year earlier.

Therefore, it's a good idea to get out of the sun for a little while and think about how to save a few pennies and do right by the atmosphere by burning less fuel this winter.

The EIA suggests

performing all the usual home maintenance

that will keep heat in and cold air out: Seal drafty windows and doors, insulate your walls and attic, and buy window treatments that let the sun in to warm your home during the day.

Also consider hiring an electrician to install a programmable thermostat so you can turn the heat down when you are out of the house or asleep. This is the kind of thing that should only cost a few hundred dollars and can pay for itself fairly quickly.

Treehugger

offers these and other tips

that depend on your resources, needs and environmental bent.

You also can consider investing in a new boiler or furnace. These items can last 20 or 30 years, and those that are made after 2000 contain new technologies that allow them to burn fuel more efficiently. Additionally, older houses often have bigger boilers or furnaces that burn more oil than needed. Replacing the old clunker might allow you to downsize.

Oil Heat America, an industry Web site for consumers, estimates that

new equipment can operate up to 25% more efficiently

than older equipment. Of course, you'll have to look at heating prices in your region and the price and size of the boiler you'll need in order to figure out how quickly you'll recover your capital investment in fuel savings.

A home energy inspector

can help you decide

whether splurging for a new boiler makes financial sense and what size would be appropriate for your home. The inspector also can look for other ways you might be wasting energy. I

wrote about them last October

.

Finally, you can look for a fuel supplier in your area that offers bioheat,

a mixture of heating oil and biofuel

that works in conventional boilers.

Reducing the amount of oil in your heating oil lowers your carbon dioxide and sulfur emissions; this is significant when you consider that in a city like New York, the

vast majority of emissions is from buildings

, not cars. As is often the case with alternative energies, while biofuel may be an eco-friendly choice, it hasn't been a money-saver in previous years.

This, however, is

starting to change

.

As more distributors sell biofuel and more consumers and commercial buildings use it, economies of scale kick in, making it cheaper to produce. New York state has offered temporary tax credits to biofuel users to help them break even. Other northern U.S. states are likely to follow suit as politicians look for ways to give voters some relief from rising fuel prices.

You can check the National Biodiesel Board's Web site

to find a distributor

near you. And Fuelstart

is an imperfect but well-intentioned site

that helps consumers comparison-shop for fuel.

It's ideal when being green saves you some green. With a little summertime preparation and research you can save some cash, help the environment and rely on your blast furnace rather than your conscience to give you a warm fuzzy feeling this winter.

Eileen P. Gunn writes about the business of life and is the author of "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport." You can learn more about her at

her Web site.